Hell, Revisited

Title: Hell, Revisited

Author: ShooteM

Email: ag4bk@juno.com

Status: Complete

Category: Action/Adventure, Hurt/Comfort

Pairings: S/J

Spoilers: Several through season six

Rating: R

Content Warnings: Violence, Torture, somewhat graphic

Disclaimer: Stargate/SG-1 and the characters thereof are the property of MGM/UA, Gekko, and Double Secret Productions. This was written for entertainment purposes only and no money exchanged hands.

File Size: 174 KB complete

Summary: The Stargate is real. SG-1 is a real team. The threat is real.

These are also real.

National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction, Dec. 2002

www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/12/WMDStrategy.pdf

AB Ali Al Salem, Kuwait, 386th Air expeditionary Group

AB Ahmed Al Jaber, Kuwait

www.globalsecurity.org/military/facility/index.htm

DTRA The Defense Threat Reduction Agency

www.dtra.mil

Inhumane treatment of prisoners in Iraq

www.humanrights-usa.net/reports/iraq.html

LOSAT: Line Of Sight Anti-Tank Missile (Lockheed-Martin)

www.missilesandfirecontrol.com/our_products/antiarmor/LOSAT/product-LOSAT.html

Author's Note: This story was inspired by the increased tensions in the Mid East and subsequent elevation of the United States Alert Status to Code Orange on Feb 7, 2003. Several people from my place of employment were called to active duty and sent overseas. If you know anyone who is serving in the military, pray for them. The descriptions of treatment and torture of prisoners by the Iraqis are from eyewitness accounts and not a product of my imagination. In no way is this story intended to make light of recent events or the atrocities committed.

Friday 02.07.03

Hammond couldn't have looked more stern, or more sad. He had called for an impromptu gathering of all available SGC personnel in the Gateroom. It did nothing to forestall the somber mood infusing the command of late. Every television set on the base was turned to one of the national news channels for information regarding terrorist threats and the possible declaration of war. The senior staff knew what was going on at higher levels but most everyone else as well as the large number of civilians knew nothing but what they heard on the news.

So now the Gateroom was solidly packed with people. Everyone wondering why it was Hammond had called them together. He finally appeared in the control room and slowly made his way down the steps and through the crowd of people. He stepped up the ramp far enough to be sure everyone could see him.

O'Neill had quietly followed his CO from his office and now took his place at the General's side. He acknowledged the presence of his team with a silent nod. The General raised his hands to quiet the murmurs in the crowd before him.

"Good afternoon, everyone. I will get straight to the point here. As you are all aware, the National Terrorist Threat Level was recently upgraded to status: orange. This is the second highest level possible, only below red, which would indicate an imminent attack. All U.S. citizens and Diplomats in the Mideast are being urged to return immediately. In light of the international crisis we are facing as a nation the President has decided that the resources of the SGC would be better utilized at this time if our offworld efforts were curtailed. We will not desist in all offworld activities but missions will be limited to scientific, archaeological and diplomatic follow up on planets where we've already been. We will not be visiting anywhere new for a while."

"In effect, people, all possible military personnel will be immediately reassigned to other bases, including the ones in Kuwait."

He paused and looked at the stunned faces before him. "Several of you will be receiving your orders before the end of the day. I cannot tell you how to deal with this. You know you are Air Force first, SGC second. You knew the day might come when your country needed you to move beyond this Command. That day has come, you are needed today. Be aware that I have personally requested each and every one of you be given the opportunity to return the SGC when our international concerns return to more normal levels, and in the event of any increased threat from other than earth bound forces, you will immediately be recalled. Until I receive additional information, that is all I can say. Thank you." Hammond turned to his 2IC and extended his hand. O'Neill's face was devoid of emotion as he clasped the older man's hand. "Good luck, Colonel. May God go with you and those who follow." The men released hands and offered each other a stiff salute.

The room filled with voices, sad, shocked, distressed but none complaining or whining about the turn of events. SG-1 as a unit moved forward toward the ramp where Hammond and O'Neill still stood. Before Carter could say a word, the General nodded to her and moved off. He needed to escape the room before he was assaulted with questions on all sides.

She stopped directly in front of O'Neill, "Sir. You're going?" The shock in her voice was unmistakable. He nodded grimly.

Jonas stepped in, "You're leaving? What will happen to us? To SG-1?"

O'Neill sighed and glanced at Teal'c. He noted that this man who usually showed little emotion was in obvious distress also but still managed to hold his tongue. He appreciated the Jaffas quiet acceptance and understanding of the how's and whys of duty and didn't think he'd ever be able to convey how much it meant to him to have a warrior brother if you will. Someone who lived with duty and service and hard choices every day. He turned back to Carter who was opening her mouth to speak again and raised his hand to quiet her.

"Not now." He spoke softly. Then to all of them he went on, "Let's get out of here."

He plowed on past the several people still in the Gateroom and purposefully walked straight to his office. Once there he moved over to his desk but did not sit. He turned and stood facing his team. Even amid the hustle and bustle in the hallway he knew they'd fallen in step behind him and followed him all the way. It gave him pleasure that he knew them so well, could trust them so much. He gestured to the door and Jonas quietly shut it.

As he remained silent, Carter took the initiative, "Colonel, are we being reassigned?"

He looked up from the mouse pad he'd found so interesting a moment before and faced her. "No. As the first contact specialist team of the SGC you will remain here and carry on. It helps that two of you were not born on earth. Jonas, you are welcome to continue in your research and studies as you are able. Teal'c you may leave the SGC if you think your duties would be unacceptable given this change, but honestly I rather hope you'll stay. You'd be the most experienced military mind in the command including Hammond and I expect he may occasionally need to bounce a few ideas off you as he does with me now. Major, you are needed to continue developing Naquadah technology and applications here."

The Major lowered her eyes momentarily blinking hard, then raised them to look directly into his, an unspoken question there. He looked away, "I, however, being a soldier with no academic usefulness, am being sent to Kuwait City. I'm being reassigned to Special Forces."

"And you're going?" Carter blurted out. " You could retire, serve as a civilian consultant or something. You're gonna let them send you back to-"

Her voice was failing so he finished it for her, "Iraq."

She took an involuntary step back and landed right against Teal'c who was behind her and he grasped her shoulders tightly. Her vision blurred as she recalled the several times while offworld O'Neill had awakened in a sweat or suffered through a nightmare. He'd get up and go off by himself for a while, working through the memories. His hatred for confinement would often bring these things to the surface and a few times she was privy to more than she should have been.

After his torture by Ba'al he'd had terrible nightmares. It didn't help that he was suffering withdrawal from the sarcophagus as well and more than once she was witness to the aftermath as she sat with him in the infirmary. One night she had been there and had to call for him to be sedated. He awoke disoriented and cursing in a foreign language, which the nurse informed her was an Iraqi dialect. She'd heard it before when she was stationed in Kuwait during the war. She refused to translate much of what was said and Carter didn't push it when she noticed the woman was blushing, but she gleaned enough to know the Colonel had been mercilessly tortured and denied food and water.

Teal'c knew, too, about the Colonel's past history with the foreign nation in another war, years ago. He had a few late night discussions with Daniel Jackson about that very thing. He had wanted to better understand this human who was the first that ever in his service to Apophis had given him reason to consider the successful displacement of a false god. It wasn't a question of physical or mental strength. Of that Teal'c was certain. Yet this brash, unconventional and frequently irreverent man had something within that was far stronger than any Goa'uld or their armies. After all this time he still wasn't sure what it was. The closest thing he'd ever seen to it was only in movies when being introduced to the culture of the Tau'ri. It was called being a hero. Not in the sense of a man trying to impress others with his own idea of greatness, but in a quiet resolve to achieve what is just. Many people would know what is right but would be unable to follow through and do it but the hero was always victorious and always survived, and never stayed around to get the glory.

Teal'c was used to Goa'uld and Jaffa alike wallowing in glory at every given chance. It was quite a concept for him to grasp true humility. He thought this quality might be part of O'Neill's strength, but knew the Colonel would brush off the idea and never discussed it with him. Now he stood tall and locked eyes with the first human to slay a god, the only man the Reetou would trust, who even the Asgard considered to be their ambassador of choice. Twice a symbiote had entered his body to make him a host and yet he stood here, free. They communicated silently, O'Neill was doing something he felt was 'right' again, and he was entrusting the safety of Major Carter, Jonas and the SGC to Teal'c. The Jaffa lowered his eyes and nodded his head once in acceptance of the mission.

When he looked back up to O'Neill's face something had changed. There was a bit more sorrow perhaps, or fear, but his resolve remained.

By the next morning O'Neill was ready to ship out. His affairs were already in order given the uncertainty of offworld missions and he'd implored his neighbors to empty out his refrigerator and kitchen cabinets of any perishables. He even had someone lined up to do some long-term yard work. In the event he was listed MIA the house would be kept up for a minimum of two years that could be extended by his designated POA (Power of Attorney) who was General Hammond. His car and truck were in storage so he called for a cab to take him to Peterson Air Force Base for the flight out. While he waited he familiarized himself with updated files, satellite imagery and current unit deployments in the area.

The paperwork he'd received with his transfer orders included a copy of the 'National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction' just recently composed in December 2002. He already knew the contents but read through it anyway. The National strategy consisted of three principle parts: Counter Proliferation, Strengthened Non-Proliferation and Consequence Management.

The first part involved scientists and intelligence, the second, diplomacy and the third, was protection, remedial and rapid response. Or in more common words, prevent, deter and defend. Obviously he was part of the latter.

He heard a vehicle pull up in the drive and without looking grabbed his gear and headed for the door. It was with a shock that he almost walked right into his now former 2IC.

The Major was on her best military behavior all prim and proper but he could see the discomfort in her eyes. "Carter! Sorry, I wasn't expecting to see you."

She looked down sheepishly, "I know, Sir. I thought I might drive you to the airport."

His eyes narrowed a bit and he looked around like there might have been a spy in their midst. "How did you know when I was leaving?"

"There are only two flights out of Peterson with troops bound for the Mideast, one today and one tomorrow afternoon. I figured you'd be on the first one."

He nodded at her logical deduction. "Well, no time like the present they say." He looked at her and felt a pang of guilt for avoiding saying goodbye to his friends, "Come on in, I'll cancel the cab."

After a quick phone call they exited the house and he locked up, taking one last look around. "You've still got that spare key, right?" He'd always taken the precaution of giving a house key to his CO and 2IC after returning from too many missions to find broken windows, water pipes and other assorted minor disasters. "I'm having the place checked weekly and my neighbors have the phone number to the base if anything unexpected comes up."

With no response from Carter he felt a need to keep up a bit of banter as he tossed his gear in her trunk and slammed the lid. "You want me to drive?"

She shook her head, "Nope. Got it."

Luckily it wasn't a very long drive and the runways of Peterson Air Force Base were soon in sight. Carter had been a clam the whole way and O'Neill had run out of things to say. Short of 'God, I wish I didn't have to go.' that is, but he wouldn't say it, he had to maintain a positive attitude, now even more so in front of her. When they arrived he was somewhat surprised that instead of driving to the drop off point she turned the car into the parking lot.

"You don't have to stay and see me off, Carter."

"No, it's okay. I want to. It's Saturday, I don't have anything else to do." She rolled her eyes and mentally slapped herself, good move Carter, 'didn't have anything else to do?' Nothing like making your CO feel insignificant. Or your former CO.

He looked at her only for a moment then looked away, suddenly feeling a need to fiddle with something he took off his sunglasses and cleaned the lenses.

They walked in and after his bag was checked, made their way out to the waiting area at the gate. Neither wanted to sit so they stood at the huge glass windows and watched the planes come and go. There was much more activity than usual with increased training flights scheduled.

O'Neill looked around the waiting area at the personnel with whom he'd be spending the next several hours on the plane. He noted that sorrowful looking family members accompanied every one of them. As his eyes fell upon the woman at his side he thought how similar they would appear to everyone else. Carter had dressed in civvies for the day, opting for jeans, a pullover and a light sweater instead of a uniform. Only a couple of the departing people would recognize her and know she was military. No one was paying attention to them any way, being caught up in their own concerns.

He was thoughtful for a moment then spoke to her, "Thanks for coming out, Carter. You know you didn't have to, I'm not even your CO anymore."

He saw her stiffen and swallow hard. Oh, yeah, she'd already thought of that. She forced herself to stare out the window and pretended it was the sunlight making her eyes water as she blinked several times then closed her eyes.

"Carter? You okay?"

He could see the muscles in her neck tighten, "You could call me Sam." Her voice was barely above a whisper.

His eyes closed as he considered her words. He knew she was still not looking in his direction, waiting for a response.

Before he could even formulate one the overhead speakers announced boarding would commence for the flight. Their eyes locked as the speaker fell silent and people began to head toward the ramp.

He couldn't move. It was like they were in a bubble separated from the noise and confusion around them and the seconds ticked by. He finally cocked his head slightly to one side and gave her a crooked smile. "Sure, Sam."

She felt the moisture welling up in her eyes again and blinked it back. He stared at her face and was suddenly back in that dark hallway, separated from her by a shimmering blue force field and watching her tell him to go. But there was no force field today, not this time, and he did what he couldn't do that awful day.

He closed the small space between them and circled his arms around her, letting her tears wet his shoulder as he pressed his cheek into her hair. It wasn't the first time he'd hugged her, but certainly the first time in public. She held him in return just as tightly and they did not move from the embrace for several long moments. They separated finally but he kept hold of one of her hands as they turned back to the window and the less-than-cheerful sunshine outside. Soon the speakers came to life again announcing the final call for the flight.

She pulled her hand away and quickly wiped her face, blinking back the remaining tears with great effort. He smiled again at her, "Take care, Sam."

"You, too. Be careful over there, Sir."

"Jack. You can call me Jack."

She nodded and replied, "Goodbye, Jack." Her forced smile faded as soon as the words were out of her mouth but his face lit up anyway. He gave her shoulder a squeeze and on a whim, gave her a quick kiss on the cheek then turned away and strode up the ramp. She didn't see it but he was smiling. What a dumb thing, he thought, on my way to who-knows-what and I'm happy. Got to be a fool or-. Well he wasn't prepared to think about what else it might be.

Air Base Ali Al Salem, Kuwait.

Monday 02.10.03

It had been a long journey with a few changes of transport along the way. Colonel O'Neill was finally at his destination, a facility endearingly nicknamed by its occupants 'The Rock'. This was little more than a group of tents located beside an airfield, which unfortunately was less than 40 miles from the Iraqi border making the installation the forefront of any campaign. Not a good place to be if conditions were to escalate.

Still, O'Neill was in an element he could understand. He was to command a Special Forces unit attached to the 386th Air Expeditionary Group. The overall purpose of the base was to provide surveillance by working in concert with AWACS Aircraft patrols and supplying 24-hour radar coverage of Iraqi airspace.

Of course this air surveillance was only part of the mission. The base was prepared to provide combat support and rescue and medical evacs, as well as ballistic missile defense. They had maintained combat readiness and were still able to launch a Patriot missile within two minutes of a scud warning. Quite impressive for a bunch of tents out in the desert, he thought.

He was greeted by an aide who took him to his assigned quarters in the officer's tent. No personal quarters here, it was like a portable dormitory. He sighed at the lack of amenities, no wonder troops appreciated the larger Ahmed Al Jaber base just north of Kuwait City. They had permanent buildings, recreation rooms and even a pool. None of that here he thought as he walked past a portable toilet.

Ah, well he wasn't here to work on his tan, might as well get to work. The aide offered to show him around and after a short break he was escorted to meet his new CO. Brigadier General Charles Pike was a man not much older than O'Neill himself, being only one step in rank above. He warmly greeted the Colonel, and welcomed him to the Command.

"You've got a colorful history here, airman. What there is of it I'm allowed to read, that is."

O'Neill answered flatly, "I've gotten accustomed to more neutral tones of late. Not a problem I take it?"

"Oh, no, just wondering what kind of man retires, comes back, then after sitting around in a cake job for a few more years gets a bee in his bonnet and wants to get back into action."

O'Neill's eyebrows shot up. 'Cake job' and 'Stargate Command' were not words he would put together. Too bad he couldn't tell his new CO that. So this guy thought he was washed up and gone soft. Maybe both in body and mind. "Not exactly, Sir. Wasn't given much of a choice, if you know what I mean."

"Yes. I see that your skills are highly regarded in places of mighty thin atmosphere. I understand you've been personally selected by the President on more than one occasion."

"We see eye to eye on certain things."

"Don't bother with the false modesty, if it weren't for your refusal to accept promotion, you'd be a two star by now and my boss. Can't stand the paperwork?"

"I've always considered myself to be a man of action. Pushing a pencil is not exactly my forte." He noted the stacks of papers on the General's desk and realized he just indirectly insulted his CO. "Uh, not that it isn't important to some bureaucra-, er, people."

"Sit down." The man smiled and gestured to a chair. "Let me be frank with you, Colonel, we've got some serious Intel that something big is up. Hussein is not just gearing up with biologicals, he's got access to some pretty advanced technology, probably stolen from us. When the reports were taken to the Pentagon, they selected you. I don't think they sent you out here to the desert because they like you. Or don't like you. Or because you've got a good bit of experience under your belt. Let's face it; running this undercover crap is for men younger than us. I'd bet there is something in the censured part of your file that would answer a lot of the questions I've got but I won't press it. I learned the meaning of classified a long time ago."

He stood and walked around his desk, "You want to meet your team? You're gonna love this, two of them are, of all things, scientists."

O'Neill's head jerked up. "What? Pardon, Sir but what the hell are scientists doing out here? Since when are scientists considered field personnel?"

"Since your Command came through, airman. Just be glad none of them are women."

O'Neill found that he was actually impressed with his assigned team. Five men, all officers, all with at least some Special Ops experience. His 2IC would be Major Thomas Corbin, not a scientist, but a well trained obsessive kind of guy who was an ordnance and demolitions expert. He actually built custom explosives in his spare time. He had a couple reprimands in his file for 'inappropriate device usage' which included things like singeing a General's cat when he tried to kill a mouse by adding a small explosive charge to a trap and using real gunpowder to make birthday candles more exciting. O'Neill chuckled as he wondered what kind of little surprises the guy could come up with for the Goa'uld.

The next in rank was Captain Bradley Tucker, Scientist, PhD, Techno-geek. Hopefully dealing with Carter had prepared him to interact with this man. The other scientist was 2nd Lieutenant Mitchell O'Connor. He was not much of a scientist considering the ones O'Neill had spent time around in the SGC. His main focus was biological warfare. This was the guy they'd depend on to keep the team out of harm's way should they have to deal with Saddam's warehouse of chemicals.

The last two members were 2nd Lieutenant Cory Tolbert, a huge honkin', Chicago born, bulldozer of a man who could go a few rounds with Teal'c and maybe win one, and 1st Lieutenant Joey Lambert, just a kid with potential. He'd serve as an aide and communications specialist. Not a bad team considering he wasn't able to handpick them.

The General had mentioned they would be due for some fresh Intel in two days time and suggested O'Neill freelance the men a bit. They needed to become a close-knit team in a very short time and O'Neill knew just the way to accomplish his goal. Get them in a fight.

He managed to have the team assigned to take part in a several hours-long training update on Chemical Weaponry that would bore the tears out of all of them except possibly O'Connor who he was sure knew all the stuff anyway. Afterward he got them to meet in the Officer's Club for a meal. He had seen the deployment orders for a group of Marines and was not disappointed to see them enter the facility.

O'Neill suggested a game of pool and when there were no takers he sauntered over to the Marines for some action. One of them was a man O'Neill thought he recognized as a possible recruit to the SGC. He'd been passed over for numerous counts of insubordination and failure to follow orders. In a way O'Neill felt sorry for the kid, he just had to learn which orders could be ignored.

So, O'Neill feigned being slightly more tipsy than he really was and invited the Marine to a match. When he was ignored, he 'accidentally' bumped the man and sloshed a drink on him. The man was instantly on his feet and glaring at the gray-haired airman with contempt. "Why don't you round up your 'Geeks' and get the hell outta here old man."

That was the opportunity O'Neill was waiting for, "*My* Geeks? I'll have you know its Geeks like them who will save your cheesy butt out here. It takes a guy with an IQ above his waist size understand that." The two men stared at each other for a moment, the Marine not sure if he wanted to deck his assailant or not. He got this desert duty as a disciplinary action and who knows what else they might do if he stepped over the line again. O'Neill smirked as he saw the man weighing the options and made a move to push him over the edge, a low blow to be sure but he had to escalate the encounter. He moved in close and stood eye to eye with the man and jutted out his chin, "Semper. Fi. My. Ass." He stuck his finger into the Marines chest with each word.

That did it. The Marine's fist shot out and clipped his jaw before he could get out of the way. It only helped a little knowing it was coming. Corbin was on his feet and running as the Colonel came back to the Marine with a well-placed uppercut, knocking him off balance. All the other Marines were now on their feet too and Corbin was cussing audibly, "Shit, shit, shit." The General would be mightily displeased if their new CO was put out of commission on his second day in Kuwait.

He engaged the closest Marine by tapping him on the shoulder and taking a jab as the man wheeled around. Two of the Marines had the Colonel pinned face down against the pool table and were preparing to yank him up and do some damage when O'Neill caught the eye of Tolbert, the Chicagoan, and remembered something from his file. The man had wanted to go pro football but had a family crisis at the time and didn't make the cut. He remembered seeing the team sweatshirt in the guy's pile of clothing. O'Neill raised his head a little more and shouted, "Go Bears! Hey, a little help? Season tickets?"

Tolbert wasn't beyond a little bribery and flashed a toothy grin to his CO. It wasn't as if he'd mind a little jarhead whumping anyway. A moment later and two Marines were on the floor. Spurred by the support of the largest member of the group, the other two lieutenants, Mitchell and Lambert entered the foray jumping on the biggest Marine together. Corbin had neutralized his quarry by lighting a flash of something right in his face then shoving him into the wall.

Captain Tucker was still back at the table and finally stood with a sigh, "This is so a bad idea." He'd been called a Geek his whole life and would have let the incident slide and didn't think he'd be able to connect with this hard core Colonel anyway, so what was the point? He stepped in front of a Marine who was preparing to take another swipe at the Colonel and simply peered at the irate man through his glasses and waited for the inevitable. The Marine took him by the shoulder only intending to shove him out of the way but gave an ample opportunity to the black-belt trained Tucker who quickly introduced him to the floor tiles. Tucker then reached his hand out to the bent over Colonel and offered an assist. "Sir, maybe we should leave."

O'Neill was still hunched over from a blow to his stomach and accepted the hand gratefully. He called to Corbin, "Everybody out, now!" Tolbert came over and grabbed his other arm as they headed for the door.

The Jeep ride back to base was uneventful, the team not wanting to disturb their injured CO who now staunchly refused to go to Medical. The two youngest Lieutenants conversed quietly in the rear and Tolbert was driving. O'Neill was in the front passenger seat, trying to ignore the complaints from his bruised body as the Jeep trundled along hitting numerous bumps in the roadway. Tucker had snagged an ice-cold can of soda on the way out and handed it to O'Neill with a gesture to his already slightly bruising jaw. O'Neill accepted it and held the cold metal to his face.

Tucker turned to the Major sitting beside him and smiled, "That was some diversionary tactic you had there, Sir. Blew up the cat when you were a kid, did you?" Corbin smiled back, "No, it was at the Academy and a General's cat too."

Tucker grinned and held out his hand, "Friends call me Tuck." Corbin returned the handshake. "And when did our scientists start taking up the Marshall Arts?"

Tuck laughed, "Oh that started back in high school, when I first had to wear glasses."

O'Neill sighed back into his seat, listening to the friendly banter, mission accomplished. They weren't quite a team yet but the ice had been broken. A few bruises were a small price to pay for the security of dependable backup any day of the week.

The next morning O'Neill was in the General's office taking a beating of another kind. "Dammit O'Neill, I said you could freelance the men a bit, not get into bar fights. What the hell did you think you were doing anyway? I ought to have you brought up on charges and shipped back to wherever you came from because apparently the rules are different back there. We are in a war zone here, no mistaking that and I will not tolerate such blatant disregard for protocol! Understood, airman?"

O'Neill stood stiffly at attention and returned a firm "Yes, Sir."

Seeing the contrite expression on the Colonel's face, Pike leaned back in his chair and relaxed slightly. "Jack, I don't know if that stunt was the stupidest thing I've ever seen or the smartest. I do not think it just happened. I realize you have been involved in quite a few unusual missions and being that you were forced to come besides, I am leaning toward cutting you some slack. Just promise me you'll *try* to stay within boundaries or at least give me a heads up when you're not going to? I've been in need of a 2IC for this base and I thought it might be you."

O'Neill looked closely at his CO's face, "Not what I'm here for, Sir."

"No, you're right, it's not why you're here. That Intel I told you about will be delayed another day whilst some specialist is flown over from stateside. You've got another day with your men, and Colonel, I don't want to see any more bruises on you, or them. Dismissed."

"Understood, Sir. Thank you, Sir." O'Neill spun on his heels and quickly exited the room only to find Tuck hanging out in the corridor.

"A little harmless eavesdropping, Captain?"

"Sir, no, Sir. I just, ah-"

"Don't sweat it. I deserved it after all."

"Sir, about that, what the General said about it being the smartest thing he'd ever seen?"

"That's not exactly what he said." O'Neill started walking away.

"Yeah, well, partially." Tuck hurried to catch up, "I mean, you did set us up back there didn't you? That was a plan to get us to start working together."

O'Neill kept walking and didn't return the airman's gaze. They were outside the building now and Tuck continued, "May I speak frankly Sir?"

"Always, Captain."

"Helluva way to start a Command, Sir."

A smile momentarily flicked across O'Neill's face. "Maybe so. We only have two days to get up to speed, Tucker, I'm not having someone watch my back whom I have never seen in action."

"Likewise I'm sure. But I get the distinct feeling it was more for us to get to know each other than for you. And it's Tuck."

O'Neill let a smile broaden as he was reminded of another most perceptive scientist of his acquaintance. "Okay, Tuck it is, how about we go find the guys and see what they're doin'? We've just been given another day to do some intensive training."

Tuck was horrified, "Sir, you know it's supposed to be nearly 125 degrees today, what sort of training did you have in mind?"

"Submersible recognizance, Captain."

Tucks eyes widened even more and his voice cracked slightly, "But we're in the middle of a *desert*, Sir."

O'Neill put his arm around the younger man's neck and spoke quietly into his ear, "And Al Jaber has a pool."

Tuck mentally filed away his observations of this most unusual CO and allowed himself to be led to the barracks.

The next day the team was once again at the larger base and O'Neill wondered why they weren't just assigned quarters there until further notice. Today they'd get the Intel about the mission and have to listen to another drawn out lecture from most likely some stuffy academic who thought they knew more than anyone else in the room. Unfortunately from previous experience, O'Neill knew they might be right.

His team was already seated at the tables set up facing the front as in a classroom. The General was there and a few other scientific/ intelligence sorts who may be involved or have something to add.

O'Neill paused at the front of the room eyeing the figure in desert cammo who was bent over away from him going through a box on the floor. He blinked and thought those were awfully nice hips for some soldier or even scientist. Suddenly the head came up revealing tousled blonde hair. He took a step further into the room, 'can't be.'

As if feeling his scrutiny the scientist turned around and looked directly into his eyes. Brown eyes met blue with complete and utter shock.

He crossed the distance between them in two long strides and grasped her arm. He swung her away from the assembled group and hushed his voice as much as he could. "Carter! What the hell are you doing here?"

She was glad to see him but managed to maintain her military decorum, "Colonel, they reassigned me here. For the short term, anyway. Something came up after you left and the Pentagon decided I needed to come. I should have guessed it would be you who'd be heading up this mission."

His eyes narrowed requesting a bit more from her. "In short, Sir, according to Intel, Hussein may have gotten his hands on a small quantity of Naquadah."

"I already knew about that, kinda why I'm here. So what's he going to do with it? Blow himself up? He doesn't have the technology to exploit it and might I add it is stupid to bring someone with the expertise to use it so close to the front lines."

"Too late, Sir. Two scientists from Area 51 are missing, they were assigned to the Naquadah/Naquadria Project."

He lowered his head and cursed, he didn't know about that. "Shit, Carter, could it get any worse?"

"Uh, well, two of the mimic devices are gone too."

O'Neill sighed and noticed the General was now watching his encounter with the Major. He abruptly took a step back. "We'll talk later, you've got a briefing to give." He nodded to the General and quickly took a seat at the back of the room avoiding any more eye contact with his CO.

As usual, Carter's briefing went over the heads of most everyone present. She neatly referred to the stolen substance as rare metal 'N' circumventing any questions about Naquadah and generally described it as a conditionally unstable metal with the ability to potentiate any explosion. She was able to give them a relatively good idea of the uses and risks of dealing with the substance while not giving away all the classified information she knew about it. The briefing concluded with Carter answering the many questions posed by the scientists in the group.

Finally over they were dismissed and most everyone headed for the commissary and lunch. General Pike had a number of observations with which to deliberate with O'Neill and commandeered a nearby office to continue in private. Unfortunately one of the observations included O'Neill's encounter with the Major before the briefing.

"I take it you have met Major Carter before."

O'Neill had been waiting for the ball to drop and here it was. He avoided looking the General in the eye and replied, "Yes, Sir. We've served together before."

"You seemed to have a bit of a problem with her presence here."

"No, Sir, not at all."

"O'Neill, you're a lousy liar. Well whatever the problem is, I expect you to get over it, and I do mean now. Her expertise involving this mineral, metal or whatever is far above any of the other intellectuals around here and your scientists will need to work closely with her to develop the most feasible mission plan. Make use of her knowledge now while you have the chance, the success of this mission is dependent on it. Now go on, take a break, but be back at Al Salem this afternoon with your team."

O'Neill returned to the briefing room to find Carter and Tucker deeply in conversation about matter energy conversions or something equally incomprehensible. He broke into their discussion, "I thought everyone was going to lunch?"

Carter shrugged and looked at her watch, noting the time was well past 1400. "Actually I'm starved. Is the commissary any good here?"

"No Jell-O."

Tuck looked at his CO. "Jell-O?"

"It's a long story, come on, let's eat." With that the trio set off for some refreshment.

Tuck was first through the line and scooted in beside Corbin at the table. Tolbert was directly across from him and the Lieutenants O'Connor and Lambert were at the far end of the table having gotten into a deep discussion about a local sporting event.

When O'Neill and Carter were through the line instead of joining the others at the table they moved off to a corner by themselves where they could talk privately. Major Corbin had picked up on Tuck's interest in the Major during the briefing and decided a comment was in order when he noticed the man staring at the two across the room. "Smart lady."

"Huh?" Tuck had been lost in his thoughts and had barely touched his lunch.

"Major Carter. She's a smart woman."

"Oh, yeah. God, smart isn't the word; I think I learned more from her in fifteen minutes than I did in a whole semester in college. She's amazing."

Yep, Corbin had seen that coming, "Whoa, boy. How'd she go from 'smart' to 'amazing'? Don't you go getting any ideas about that one."

Tuck turned to him, mouth agape then looked back at the Colonel and Major. "What? Why not? You think they've got history?"

"Oh, Yeah. Even a blind man could see it. Believe me, that is one unavailable female."

"You're imagining things."

"I think not," he pretended to be insulted, "keep watching."

As they continued to observe, the Colonel must have said something witty because the Major suddenly burst out laughing and reached out to grasp his right arm. He did not move away but instead covered her hand with his left. Her face then softened into a million dollar grin as their hands moved back from the brief contact. They sat not talking, just smiling at each other.

"Aw, crap." Tuck lamented, "Remind me in the future to keep my mind on the mission. You sure he's not her father? He's got to be old enough."

Corbin smirked, "Tuck, you're hopeless, no dad looks at his kid like that! I mean look at them, if it wasn't for all the people in this room they'd be makin' out right where they are."

Carter immediately dove into her sandwich when they finally got to a table. O'Neill decided he wasn't all that hungry after that talk with Pike and opted only for a coffee and cake.

"So rare metal 'N', who came up with that one?"

"I know it's lame but it's the best we could come up with on short notice."

O'Neill sighed, "We've got a lot to talk about, but not here." He shifted gears into small talk, "Anybody else shipped out back home?"



They continued to chat and O'Neill related the 'training exercise' he'd engineered in the bar eliciting a whoop of laughter from his former 2IC. They fell into a companionable silence for a little while, not disturbed by the din of people moving around them.

"The General asked me to come out to Al Salem and look over their lab."

Surprised O'Neill responded, "You're staying in Kuwait?"

"Don't worry, I'm supposed to head back by the end of the week, I'm just here to get your guys up to speed." She wagged a fork at him. "You gonna finish that cake?"

Later that afternoon, O'Neill was summoned to the General's office. It seemed he was more than impressed with the Major and wanted her to stay on for an extended time.

"You can't do that General!"

"And why the hell not? Colonel, after the briefings today I am more than convinced we are dealing with a highly unstable material and we can use all the expertise we can get to handle it. I don't think she can teach your men enough in the next day or so to pull off this mission."

"Sir, that level of expertise is needed only when you get into research and development, not search and recover missions, besides we already have someone on the team who is more than familiar enough with the properties and potential hazards associated with the metal."

Pike eyed the Colonel warily, he'd suspected as much. "You know, her file is almost as classified as yours and you both transferred out of Cheyenne Mountain? I take it *you* are the one you're referring to?"

O'Neill considered he may have already said too much but admitted, "Yes, Sir. I am."

"Well the decision is out of my hands anyway- it seems some of those high-altitude friends of yours pulled the strings on her too. The transfer papers have already gone through, with regards from the Pentagon. She's on your team. I'm told she's got some specialized covert skills you could use."

O'Neill knew he was fishing for more information but he'd said all he was going to say at this point. There was no way in hell he was going to allow Carter across the Iraqi border but if Hussein did in fact have access to those shape shifting devices Carter's know-how would really come in handy. He hated it but had to relent at last. "I won't condone orders sending her into hostile territory." He said flatly.

"And I hope it won't come to that." Pike let his shoulders sag a bit, he really did like this Colonel but his patience had a limit. "Let's just play it by ear for now, Colonel, and see how things pan out."

O'Neill nodded curtly and was dismissed by the General.

He headed for the women's barracks and was escorted to the Major by an enlisted female assigned to assist her. Carter had only packed a small bag thinking she would only be there a day or two at most and was already settled in.

She looked up when he came in. Despite the fans and air conditioning she was perspiring a little. "I forgot how hot it could get here on earth."

"Oh, this is nothing, just wait 'till the breeze dies down, there's hot and there's Saudi hot. I may yet learn to appreciate Antarctica." He grinned at her. "You got some time we can talk about stuff?"

"Actually I've got a meeting with General Pike in a few minutes, he's been cleared to be briefed on the missing men and even about the missing devices. Maybe we should all meet together, then I wouldn't have to go over it all twice."

"Sure, I don't think the General would have a problem with that. One thing though, he knows we've worked at the same base before but I haven't enlightened him much beyond that. I've been walking a fine line with clearance issues."

"Understandable." She walked with him outside the portable building. "Hopefully I can resolve some of that. I've got permission from General Vidrine at the Pentagon to tell him quite a lot about Area 51projects, I just can't tell him where the technology really comes from."

"By the way have you been, ah, informed of any updates to your assignment?"

"No. Should I have been?"

"Yeah, well, the General was quite taken with you in your briefing, he seems to feel you could be of some help if you stayed on."

"Gee, thanks." She rolled her eyes.

"Sorry, Carter. He doesn't think 'us boys' can do it without you. Not only are you staying, you're on my team."

"You're kidding, right?"

"Well, I'm not that bad to work for am I?"

"No, that's not what I meant." It was her turn to apologize. She shook her head and smiled at his feigned insult. "It's just, here we are, on the other side of the planet, in a completely different situation and you're still my CO."

He shrugged, "Can't get enough of a good thing?"

She ignored the comment, "Aren't we supposed to be somewhere?"

The General looked up from his desk and seeing the two officers waved them in. "Colonel, weren't you just here?"

"Sir, some of the information the Major plans to brief you on has a direct impact on the mission. If you don't mind I'd like to sit in."

Pike nodded. Maybe the Colonel didn't know as much as he'd originally thought. That idea was dispelled as Carter discussed advanced technologies, Area 51 projects, and the missing scientists, O'Neill didn't bat an eye. None of this seemed to be new information to him. The General, himself, however went from surprise to astonishment to utter disbelief.

"And you're saying these 'devices' can completely alter a man's appearance, down to the smallest detail?"

"Exactly, Sir. They can be programmed with the information using any laptop computer with the right software, and we're not sure if that was taken as well."

The Colonel leaned back in his chair, "Oh, they've got it alright. That's probably how they kidnapped the scientists, didn't you say there was no evidence on the security cameras that they ever left the base?"

"You're right, Sir. It may have been easier to disguise them than to circumvent the cameras. What we don't know is if they left willingly."

The General's expression was dire; "People are allowed to work with these things when their loyalties are not assured?"

Carter quickly answered, "Of course not, but there are 'factions' within our own government who are not always in agreement with the current focus of research and development."

"CIA?"

"Sometimes, but mostly NID."

Pike glanced at the Colonel, "None of this is news to you?" O'Neill only shrugged.

"Very well. This mission has just gotten a whole lot more complicated. We've gone from a little retrieval mission to search and rescue, and retrieval of not one but two very different items. Rescue of the American citizens will be the priority, then the metal and the devices. If retrieval becomes unattainable you will destroy the metal and technology, though I'd love to see it work."

O'Neill and Carter were dismissed to begin planning the complex mission.